Everyday leadership

While serving as training manager at BorgWarner Chemicals, I learned a very effective process for managing change efforts. When change was proposed or needed, a number of internal facilitators met with small groups on all shifts. We described the change to come and listened to their concerns, answered those concerns we could and gathered on a flip chart those that needed further research.

Marvin Weisbord in his book, Productive Workplaces, lists a series of guidelines to help employees during major change.

  • First, give as much information as possible. Repetition is a good thing during change. If you don’t share all you know, people will make up information to fill the gaps.
  • Second, tell the truth and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know or I will get back to you.” The key is making sure you get back with information or answers quickly and broadly distribute them to everyone.
  • Third, don’t argue if you feel misunderstood. Ask the questioner to repeat what he/she thought you said and address that paraphrase rather than defending your position. When I argue, I become defensive and usually others respond in kind. I am more effective when I stay focused on the issue and not take comments personally.
  • Fourth, accept all feelings, good or bad, as real and honest expressions of the other person. Don’t tell people how they should feel or dismiss their concerns. It is obvious that we don’t know how other people feel or even why they feel the way they do. So accept the comment as valid and address the content of the message as best you can or get more information. If a person is playing a game with a question or concern, others in the group will often realize the game and understand it for what it is. However, we need to explore every possible concern and opportunity for solutions.
  • Fifth, write all concerns on a flip chart as they are presented. The flip chart is a consensual tool. Everybody can see the item and follow the discussion better. When you address a concern, check to see if it is addressed to the satisfaction of the group and then mark it off. Put a star by the items that need additional information and bring back the answers later.
  • Finally, be open to listening to rumors. Address those you can and gather data on those you can’t immediately answer. Remember ignoring rumors does not diminish them. Instead it can strengthen them.

Weisbord’s Change Management Guidelines are very similar to the process we used at BorgWarner. As a result, our employees felt more powerful and in control. Information during chaotic times is the best medicine to stabilize morale and enhance feelings of ownership of concerns and solutions.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web, site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

Everyday leadership

All of the women of my life have been good cooks. My Dad was not. When he lived by himself in his 80s, I threw out a goodly number of tuna fish cans on each of my visits. Dad, having been born in 1899, believed in a division of labor at the farm. He and his boys had the outside responsibilities of taking care of crops and animals and Mom and my sister, Sylvia, had the inside tasks of cooking and cleaning.

I observed Mom cooking and Sylvia baking and was amazed at the smoothness and lack of hesitancy of their processes. Mom was not a measurer. She was a pincher and a sifter. And the product came out perfect every time.

With the exception of an occasional grilled cheese sandwich or a breakfast of bacon and eggs, made the Mom way, I never felt the need to cook until I was about 40. For some reason I decided to attempt spaghetti. The base of the sauce was purchased but I experimented with the addition of spices and anything else that happened to be in the cabinet. I was surprised when a very tasty meal was achieved.

Since that time I added pizza, hamburger stew (my brother-in-law’s recipe), and meat loaf to my list of dishes. When I decided to make a meat loaf, I called my Mom and inquired about her recipe. She was vague regarding the exact measures, which made sense given her intuitive process. In any case, my finished dish tasted close to what I remembered as a child.

During my next rendition, my wife suggested a recipe on the back of Lipton soup box, which mirrored Mom’s. The recipe required one envelope of the soup. I used two. Three-fourths cup of bread crumbs were obtained by shredding a couple of end slices of bread and I mixed the bread crumbs and a couple of eggs into a large bowl with two pounds of hamburger. One-third cup of Baby Ray’s Barbecue sauce was substituted for the ketchup listed on the recipe and a three-quarter cup of water was added. I included six garlic cloves, one half large white onion, and a couple cups of mushrooms all sliced. I formed my loaf in a pan and topped it with more barbecue sauce. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Recipes are models or templates for a product. In some cases like in chemical plants or manufacturing processes, the recipe must be followed diligently and changed only after controlled experimentation and testing. However, leaders often have leeway in how they lead. Trying new approaches and documenting results can be very valuable for process improvement. Documenting the performance of processes can be very helpful. Mom had her recipes and processes all in her head. By repeated demonstration and description, she transferred the knowledge to my sister. Had she documented her processes, transferability to others would have been easier. Look around your workplace. Are your most important processes accurately documented so others can learn them? If not, get your internal experts to put them down on paper.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

Everyday leadership

In March, I will have in hand the third printing of my book, “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success.” This book contains the leadership model that I have implemented with clients since 1990. A lot of the book’s content came about through my research and practical experience with teams. Most of us have had positive experiences with various teams in our lives. However, successful teams don’t usually happen accidentally. A great deal of work is required to create and maintain effective teams.

Robert Bellah in his book, “Habits of the Heart” described Americans as highly individualistic. They prefer to contribute individually rather than in teams. In spite of that tendency, Americans with the proper preparations are hard to beat in teams both in sports and at work.

Marvin Weisbord in his book, “Productive Workplaces,” suggests there are four conditions for team success. First team members should be interdependent and each person should have a stake in the outcome. The desired actions of team members and their impact on other employees must be clearly and honestly discussed on a regular basis. The contributions of teams should be rewarded financially or with other desired recognition in alignment with their level of success.

Second, the organization’s leaders must be willing to take risks to improve the group’s performance. The team leader along with team members should always be inventing experiments to continually improve work processes. Increasing autonomy of team members aligned with discussions of the impact on productivity and overall success of the project can lead to successful risks.

Third, all team members must agree to participate on the team. Sometimes, dedicated time for teambuilding with a skilled teambuilding professional is necessary to listen to the team members, address any issues and create an environment where commitment to the team performance is attractive and productive.

Finally, the influence of each team member must be equal. That is to say, everyone must have a say and be respected. Again, teambuilding sessions can help increase respectful communication with focus on simple communication techniques and the importance of personal accountability to each team member’s success.

I am a big fan of well-performing teams. They coordinate a reduction of inefficiencies within a work group and across departments and shifts, enhance job satisfaction and contribute to the organization’s bottomline. However, these outcomes are not achieved through magic. It takes a dedication of resources and structured use of employee’s time. In group sessions we need to talk about how we talk, learn respectful ways to address disagreements and conflicts and share expectations in all directions.

Building teams can create a return many times the organization’s investment. Once the team culture is designed, annual sessions to evaluate successes and concerns are valuable. Teams are not just nice to do. They are a business necessity.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

Everyday leadership

My grandmother always had sparkling eyes and a broad smile for me. She had high cheekbones and an air of authority. When I visited Grandmother’s apartment, she always offered me Ritz crackers liberally spread with peanut butter served with Coca-Cola as a treat. They always tasted better there than anywhere else.

Grandmother was a storyteller. She had stories about all of us children when we were little and about Mom and family and friends from back home in Pomona, Tenn. One of my favorites was about my mother when she was about 3 years old.

Mom always loved any animal, which was slow enough or foolish enough to let her catch it. It so happened at the time of the story that Grandmother had a brood hen that had just hatched a number of baby chicks. Finally, they were old enough to venture into the yard. Mom was attracted by their activity and fluffiness. While Grandmother’s back was turned, Mom started after one. She caught up with the first chick and held it tightly and lovingly in her little arms occasionally rubbing her cheeks against the soft new feathers. It was so cute. Soon, the delicate little bird ceased all movement and thereby lost my mother’s interest. Quickly, Mom chased down another chick and proceeded to hug it with great affection. The second bird also succumbed. With just seconds having passed, Mom had grabbed her fourth bird when my Grandmother reappeared in the front yard.

Grandmother was horrified at the yard full of dead chicks. In a scolding voice, my Grandmother reprimanded my Mother, “Audrey, what on earth do you think you are doing.” Mom replied, “I’m loving the little fluffs. They are so soft and pretty.”

We, as leaders, can learn much from the stories told by those who came before us. Storytelling can solidify points in our minds in unique and lasting ways.

Sometimes a leader can care for followers in the wrong way to the point of smothering them. People need to breathe, to make mistakes, and to have successes. One of the most difficult things to learn as a leader is when to protect a follower from dangerous experiences and when to let the follower explore. If you hold on too long, the risk taking of the follower will be lessened. If you throw them into difficult situations too quickly, you may cause a failure and lessen future risk taking. Each person is different but if you listen carefully, they will tell you when they are ready to take the next step or new challenge.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.